Why would I revive a website that hasn't seen real changes in almost 25 years, for a community that, while not dead, is not the vibrant, active group that it used to be? In the middle of a global pandemic, no less? Well, it's personal.
When people ask me to describe what I do, there are a couple tropes that I lean on: I'm a storyteller, and I make things. My brain is happiest when it is engaged with a narrative and constructing the things used in the telling of that story.
Doesn't matter whether it's my work or my hobbies. For a job I design and build web applications, learning about the users' needs and then crafting a user-friendly experience. Outside of work I co-founded a local Shakespeare company where I act, design posters and programs, and construct sets for the shows. All of these activities involve building things for the purpose of telling stories, a conflation of the creative and the logical that lets me drop into "flow" while the world around me disappears.
COVID-19 has made flow a rare and precious commodity. The recklessness of performing for a crowd of people in 2021 means that live theatre is out of the question. And work... even when it's rewarding the process still involves explaining choices to dozens of people and being beholden to competing interests.
To scratch those creative itches and forget about the stress of everyday life I've found myself gravitating to personal projects. Yes, I baked bread. I worked on the house and the yard. I took to miniature building and painting. But most of all I found myself drawn back to a time that I was building something just for me, to learn and to have fun.
When I started The Crow's Nest as a college freshman the web was still pretty new. In the span of a year and change I rewrote the site a few times, trying out new techniques and styles, constantly making it better. Over the years I've toyed with the idea of resurrecting the Nest, if only to pull some of these historical records from the Internet Archive's shelves and shake off the cobwebs. None of those attempts went much further than Photoshop experimentation, until the anxiety accompanying a pandemic set my brain afire.
Once it became clear I was really going to do this, I set out a few goals for myself.
The Nest should be current, technologically, and allow me to experiment with some web tech that I don't use at my day job. Part of this is curiosity, and part of it is professional security. I want to be sure I'm knowledgable about new-ish things just in case I need to go job hunting some day.
But not good enough for now. I'm very comfortable with React and SASS, so learning more about Gatsby and the whole JAMstack, static website thing seemed like a good combination. Plus, the kind of content I'm going to be featuring here isn't high on interactivity. Being able to keep all the writing as Markdown files and have the site build and deploy automatically based on a Git push will make everything easy to maintain.
Accessibility, in all its meanings, is important to me, so I want to take the time to make the site work for everybody, on any kind of device. Doing that right is a lot of work that sometimes gets short shrift in the crush of deadlines. But here the only boss is me, so I get the time to build the site the best way I know how.
If you're curious about how I've put the site together the code is available at Github.
I want to brush up my writing skills. I used to write almost every day, both for school assignments and for fun. Level reviews and the ancillary creative bits for the Nest and the Academy gave me regular opportunity to stretch those muscles, and without that kind of outlet those skills have lost their edge. I do more speaking in public than I do writing nowadays, and while that's definitely an enjoyable form of storytelling I'm feeling the pull to get my chops back. Writing this one post I can feel myself struggling to organize my thoughts, form a cohesive through-line for the content, flow from one idea to the next.
Just as with the programming end of things, the prose in my reviews from long ago leaves something to be desired when I read it now. There's a challenge waiting for me in finding new and interesting ways to rephrase the same critiques over and over again, and these blog posts that lack an obvious focus like a mission review are going to be an entirely different beast to tackle. But those are the kinds of hurdles I'm looking foward to clearing (or, more likely, stumbling over, picking myself up, and then trying to do better on the next one).
I want to preserve a bit of history. The Dark Forces online community from 1995-97 was really special and I find it sad that like a lot of old websites so much of it has disappeared. It's clear from many of the retrospectives that have been written in recent years that lots of people have fond memories of Dark Forces and its sequels, though I'm saddened to see barely a mention of the mission authors that extended that narrative before Kyle Katarn ever picked up a lightsaber. These missions were fan fiction writ out in 2.5 dimensions and I loved it.
Instead of leaving the Nest as a hidden relic in the Internet Archive or a mirror site on DF-21 I want to rebuild my piece of that community, celebrate the parts that were important to me. I've got over a hundred new-to-me missions to play and reviews to write. My completionist streak won't let me leave it that way.
This endeavor is clearly an anxiety-fueled attempt to reclaim a part of my past when things were a little clearer, and I had control over a project that felt at least a little bit important to myself and others. No illusions there. But if I can channel that anxiety into something creative and constructive that teaches me some stuff leaves a little corner of the web better than it was, that's a win.